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EU to set up strategic deals with third countries to mine critical raw materials including lithium

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December 13, 2023

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Published:

December 13, 2023

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The European Parliament adopted the Critical Raw Materials Act with an overwhelming majority. The new legislation will enable the EU to source strategic minerals through deals with friendly third countries, including for controversial lithium mining projects.

In a push to enable so-called strategic autonomy and reindustrialization, prevailingly with zero-carbon technologies, the European Union fast-tracked a law that would simplify the mining and supply of the most important minerals. The European Parliament adopted the Critical Raw Materials Act (CRMA) with 543 votes against only 43, and with 24 abstentions.

The legislation will come into force after a formal endorsement from the Council of the EU, which represents member states. The administration in Brussels launched the initiative with the aim to boost the supply of strategic raw materials while critics say it favors mining projects over environmental protection and the rights of affected communities.

Critical Raw Materials Act includes provisions on ‘more environmentally friendly mining’, recycling

The law is cutting red tape, fostering innovation along the entire value chain and supporting small and medium-sized enterprises, according to the European Parliament. Its purpose is also to enhance research, and “more environmentally friendly mining and production methods,” the legislators said.

MEPs claim they tended to give the development of substitute materials more significance during negotiations

Lawmakers claim that during the negotiations they pushed for a stronger focus on substitutes for strategic raw materials and the extraction from waste. The EU’s official list consists of 34 items including boron, cobalt, copper, lithium, natural graphite, nickel and rare earth elements.

Deals with friendly countries seen boosting employment, technology development

Members of the European Parliament pointed out that the act facilitates long-term strategic partnerships with third countries “with benefits for all sides.” They added it would involve knowledge and technology transfers, training and upskilling “with better working and income conditions, as well as extraction and processing on the best ecological standards in partner countries.”

Actually, Serbia and the European Commission signed a letter of intent three months ago to initiate a strategic partnership in the areas of batteries and critical materials, according to a recent report. The country’s government didn’t comment on the article.

EU officials are particularly interested in the Western Balkans.

Green agenda versus nature, rights of local communities

“This legislation is an industrial policy blueprint for a secure and sustainable supply of raw materials in Europe. With targeted economic incentives, we are creating project-planning certainty for private investors – through single points of contact for companies, and fast and simple authorisation procedures with clear deadlines for national authorities,” lead MEP Nicola Beer said.

Critical raw materials for electric cars, solar panels, smartphones and other devices are pivotal for the green and digital transition, economic resilience and the EU’s technological leadership, lawmakers stressed. “Since the Russian war against Ukraine and an increasingly aggressive Chinese trade and industrial policy, cobalt, lithium and other raw materials have also become a geopolitical factor,” they said.

The local population and activists in Serbia and Portugal have already disturbed projects for lithium mining and processing, accusing the authorities and companies of foul play. Portugal recently even saw high-profile arrests. There is resistance throughout Europe and beyond against uncontrolled mining and dirty technologies, together with calls to weigh better the value of nature and social impact.

Environmentalists flag barriers to public participation

The development of the Critical Raw Materials Act was met with protests, too.

“It imposes fast-track permitting and limits public participation and the right to say no to mining for local communities. It also allows mining companies to destroy nature, protected areas, deep sea and the Arctic” and to displace communities, actor and activist Bojana Novaković said in the name of an environmentalist coalition.

A petition against the Critical Raw Materials Act was launched by Salvemos la Montaña from Spain, Não às Minas from Portugal, Marš sa Drine (member of SEOS) from Serbia, OPSAL from Chile and Earth Thrive from the United Kingdom and the Balkans. It received more than 77,000 signatures.

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